autumn meditation #2
on Kuizhou’s lonely walls the slant evening light;
I rely on the Dipper when looking for the exalted capital—
it's true: three cries from the gibbons bring on tears;
false that my mission can follow the eighth-month raft—
the ministry’s portrait hall censer intrudes on my rest;
the tower’s white-washed battlements hide a sad reed flute—
look! above wisteria laden stones, the moon;
it shines already on the island’s reed blossoms
based on Du Fu: 秋興八首 (二)
qiū xìng bā shŏu (èr)
- Kuizhou is the name of the prefecture; Du Fu is actually in Baidicheng.
- Three cries from the gibbons: this refers to an old song that says three cries from the gibbons in the Yangzi's Three Gorges will move one to tears.
- The eighth-month raft: this refers both to the explorer Zhang Qian who followed the Yellow River to its source on a mission from Emperor Wu of Han, & also to story about a man who boarded a raft that appeared to him in the eighth month (remember, this is a lunarsolar calendar, so roughly, September), & was able to travel the Celestial River, one of the Chinese terms for what we call the Milky Way. As scholar & translator Burton Watson points out, both of these voyages were successful, whereas Du Fu's career has been in his eyes a failure.
- Line five: this refers to the time when Du Fu worked in the Department of State Affairs (or in Owen, the Board of Works), in a building decorated with official portraits. Watson states that women tended the incense burners that perfumed the robes of the officials. The Chinese character we translated as "rest" (literally, "pillow") has connotations that Du Fu is ill & bedridden. He often describes himself as being in poor health.
As always, deep gratitude to the work done by my translation partner Sheila Graham-Smith, & acknowledgement to notes & background material from Stephen Owen, Watson, & William Hung.
Image links to its source on Wiki Commons
“The Dunhuang star map of 700 AD. British Library Or.8210/S.3326 Ursa Major, Sagittarius and Capricornus are recognizable. The three colors (white, black and yellow) indicate the schools of astronomy of Shih Shen, Kan Te, and Wu Hsien.”